Small Space? Grow a Balcony or Patio Garden!


By Paul and Nelly Cox


With a little creativity and the right plants, you can grow a stellar garden—no yard necessary.

Your garden could defy the laws of physics. Designing a gravity-busting vertical garden doesn’t require much—a little design creativity, a few upwardly mobile plants and the right tools for the task are really all you need to create a small-space garden bursting with fresh food, gorgeous blooms and tantalizing scents. Don’t let silly details (like not having a yard) deprive you of the wonders of a garden.


Up and At ’Em 

Begin your garden by choosing gravity-defiant plants that grow upward such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, passionflower, morning glories, honeysuckle, clematis, ivies and wisteria. Place pots on mounted wall shelves, buy or build stackable planters, and use trellises. Vertical planting allows for creative development!


Location, Location, Location 

The direction your balcony or patio faces is of major importance. Most plants require at least five sunny hours a day. Wind exposure can be a problem. Be cautious of unprotected open areas—you can create windbreaks with planted trellises on balconies or rows of shrubs near patios. Consult experienced neighbors or local nurseries to determine the best plants for your location.


Bug Off 

Be on the lookout for harmful pests and their eggs. It’s easy, safe and simple to remove damaging eggs and pests by hand. If you use commercial sprays, ask your local nursery for nontoxic suggestions.

Weigh In

If you’re growing on a balcony, pay attention to weight limitations. Your landlord or homeowners’ association should be able to provide information on the amount of weight your balcony can support. Total weight per plant includes pot, plant, soil and water. To reduce weight, try cedarwood or lightweight biodegradable plastic containers. (Do not grow food in plastics with the recycling codes 3, 6 or 7.)


Feed Me, Seymour 

Plants in containers with limited soil quickly eat up available nutrients. Supplement with organic fertilizers suited to your plants. Some options include worm compost, kelp meal, bone meal and organic cottonseed meal.


Water In, Water Out 

For easy watering, consider attaching a hose adaptor to your kitchen faucet. For good drainage, drill several holes in your container bottoms and line them with about 3 inches of gravel under the topsoil.


Plant Pals 

Choose compatible plants. For example, tomatoes and basil have the same need for light, water and feeding—and they make a great pasta dinner. Seeds of Change offers a handy chart of great plant partners.


Deep Down 

Plant seeds in containers at the same depth as you would in the ground. A good general rule: Do not plant deeper than four times the seed’s thickness.


Winter Warm-Up 

For safe overwintering, you can set containers on wooden blocks and surround them with a spacious plastic bag filled with bubble wrap, sawdust or leaves. Without this insulation, cold weather can seriously damage plants. Small containers, including those made of plastic and terra cotta, are susceptible to cracking.




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